With a six-game winning streak, a 1 1/2-game conference lead and seven games remaining, the initial thought might be Oregon is favorably positioned for its first regular-season crown since 2001-02.
Then consider four of those remaining seven games are on the road beginning Thursday night with a California team that's yet to lose a home game of any kind this season, and coach Dana Altman is still rejecting his team being on any kind of inside track.
That could change for the 11th-ranked Ducks (20-4, 9-2) if they make it through the weekend with wins over the Golden Bears (15-8, 5-5) and two days later at Stanford, but that's a big if even for the conference leaders. Oregon is 15-0 at home with six Pac-12 wins but 4-3 in true road games, including 3-2 in the league with both losses coming at unranked opponents. Cal, meanwhile, is 14-0 at home with five conference victories highlighted by wins over then-No. 12 Arizona and then-No. 21 Utah.
"There's still so many teams in striking distance, and we have four very difficult road games (in the Bay Area this weekend, and Los Angeles in early March)," Altman told the team's official website. "We are in the lead at this point, but you've got Utah and Arizona there with five home games left, and the potential to have a big run here to finish the season. So we're just going to have to keep playing. I hope our guys keep the edge, because that's how we've been able to win a few games."
The winning streak is tough to ignore, particularly on the offensive end with the Ducks averaging 83.5 points on 48.1 percent after Sunday's 76-66 home win over Utah. Dillon Brooks scored 30 points on 12 of 22 and has averaged 20.4 points on 52.8 percent in his last eight games, yet his coach wants to see more from him defensively.
"People tend to put everything on the offensive end, and he had a great game offensively," Altman said. "He had a couple of communication gaps on the defensive end, and I don't know if it was his best (game), but it ranks right up there."
Yet offensive execution will be key against a stingy Cal team. The season series opened with Oregon's 68-65 home win on Jan. 6 as Brooks was limited to four points on 2-of-10 shooting. Chris Boucher scored 18 points to lead the Ducks to their second straight win in the series despite shooting 40.7 percent, but the Golden Bears had won the previous 12 meetings.
Last season's Oregon win came at Cal, but Haas Pavilion has been especially hostile territory this season. The Golden Bears' 15-game home winning streak dating back to the final game of last season is tied for their fifth longest ever.
This season's portion of the streak has come thanks in large part to Cal's Pac-12-leading scoring defense (66.7 points per game) and opponent field-goal percentage (38.8). After Saturday's 76-61 win over Stanford, those numbers are at 62.0 and 36.4 at home.
Cal has also shown some offensive depth lately. Jordan Mathews finished with a game-high 18 points and is averaging 15.2 in five straight games off the bench after starting the first 18 games with 12.9.
Fellow reserve Kameron Rooks had 11 points and 12 rebounds for his first career double-double. It was a career-high scoring night while the 7-footer finished with a career high in rebounds for a second straight game.
"I'm just playing as hard as I can, crashing the glass and taking care of my defense," Rooks said.